Friday, August 1, 2014

No flash, but it’s still a win

Irish end 2013 season at 9-4.
Posted on Dec. 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Brindza’s 5 FGs spark ND to 29-16 win over Rutgers.

Rachel Terlep

NEW YORK — Even after spending a week in the city, Notre Dame couldn’t find a way to inject any of New York’s flashiness into its performance Saturday, Dec. 28.

Instead, Notre Dame’s 29-16 win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl looked like so many other games this year — sluggish, sloppy, slow-paced. Not a dash of New York style.

The Pinstripe Bowl may be New York City’s bowl game, but Notre Dame drove the shine into Yankee Stadium’s patchy turf within the first 10 minutes of the contest.

Notre Dame (9-4) was projected to beat a floundering Rutgers squad (6-7) by 15 points. Early in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame found itself hanging on to a three-point lead.

But after 13 games, did we really expect anything else?

The Irish battled the same demons it faced all year — a slow start against a below-average opponent, red-zone scoring struggles, overthrown passes, what head coach Brian Kelly called a “disaster of a kickoff coverage team” and an opposing quarterback hot-stepping down the field for big-chunk gains.

On the flip side, Notre Dame found a way to win by relying on its usual late-game surge and the reliable foot of kicker Kyle Brindza. The Irish held Rutgers scoreless in the third period, Notre Dame’s statistical strongest defensive quarter throughout the season.

In short, Notre Dame’s 2013 finale was a microcosm of its other 12 games combined.

“A good year that could have been a great year,” said head coach Brian Kelly of the 2013 campaign. “Some really good victories at home; against USC. I like the fact that over the last couple of years we’ve played well at home. But we had a couple of missed opportunities in some games where we very easily could have been a team looking at double-digits wins, and that’s where we want to be every year.”

After getting tripped up in the red zone on its opening drive, receiver TJ Jones charged into the end zone on an 8-yard carry, seemingly giving the Irish a bit of fire early on.

But Notre Dame struggled to establish a sustainable lead, holding on to a three-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. Tarean Folston’s 3-yard touchdown run in the waning minutes of the game gave the Irish their first real breathing room in the contest.

Between those scores was a flurry of field goals from Brindza and Rutgers kicker Kyle Federico. Brindza hit five of his six attempts — missing once from 44 yards — while Federico nailed all three of his tries.

Still, the Irish dominated Rutgers on both sides of the line of scrimmage, outgaining the Scarlet Knights 494-236, even in the absence of former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.

Tommy Rees threw a Notre Dame bowl game-record 47 times, completing 27 for 319 yards, no touchdowns and no turnovers. Cam McDaniel and Folston combined for 161 yards against the fourth-best run defense in the country.

Defensively, Notre Dame grabbed four interceptions and held Rutgers to just three second-quarter points.

Still, the end zone evaded the Irish for most of the contest, a problem that has followed Kelly through most of his tenure at Notre Dame.

“I’m really happy with what we did today in the red zone,” Kelly said of Notre Dame’s five trips inside the 20. “We just didn’t execute. We’ve got to throw it and catch it down there. When we needed to run it in today, and we were able to run the ball in, but schematically I know what we want to do down there. We just have to be executing better in that area, and we will.”

With 2013 in the bag and Everett Golson in line to reclaim quarterbacking duties in the spring, Kelly hopes for a faster-paced offense next year.

“I’d like to get 90 plays,” he said. “We got 90 plays in today. Play a little faster like we did today. We’d like our offense to be a little bit more multi-dimensional. We had five yards rushing from the quarterback who ran 90 plays. If we have a quarterback next year that has the ability to run the ball, we will be difficult to defend.”

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